I WAS THINKING about a trip Mimi and I took to Jamaica. We were ready for a break and our slow season had arrived. By that time we had Mia. I think she was two or three years old. Both of our parents were more than willing to have Mia stay with them so we could get away for a week. It worked out that Mimi’s parents drew the winning straw so we met them in Little Rock for our flight out. Mia loved spending time with her grandparents and the feeling was mutual so we had no worries as far as her being happy in our absence.
The trip we had planned was going to be different than most of our past trips. This time we rented a hexagon shaped bungalow on the cliffs in Negril. The compound of bungalows was beautiful. Someone had bought up a long stretch of otherwise useless rocky cliffs that were just out of reach from the crashing waves. They built six cottages that were far enough apart that everyone had plenty privacy. They were set up in a way you couldn’t see the other cottages or the people who stayed in them. Each cottage was really just a huge speaker with a king size bed and a really nice bathroom and shower. Each of the six walls could be raised up with ropes and pulleys so you and the speakers and the bed were wide open to the sounds and the sea air with the roof for shade. It was very comfortable.
When we were arranging the reservations with the owner she told us to bring all of our favorite music. I didn’t quite comprehend what she meant until I saw what we had. There were four speakers about the size of me with a really good stereo to play CDs in. Those speakers sounded so good that we couldn’t help but turn them up as loud as we could take it. We never had the feeling we could bother anyone with the sounds coming off of our little piece of the island. The constant wind and the crashing waves on the cliffs muffled the sounds and also lulled us into some deep naps in the hammocks that were suspended over the blue ocean beneath us. It felt like we were moving sometimes as we were hung out over the constant undulation of the sea, its very mesmerizing.
There was a main cottage we would go to for our meals. My favorite time to go there was for an incredibly fresh breakfast. The coffee was always good and the fruit was obviously picked that morning. We would have mangos, eggs, fresh bread and sometimes we were lucky enough to be served callaloo and akee with salt fish. Callaloo is a type of leafy vegetable that looks like a taro or an elephant ear. The leaves are steamed with tomatoes and garlic and sometimes coconut milk. There are lots of variations throughout the Caribbean and I’ve never had a variation of it that I didn’t like. I could compare it to our dish of turnip greens, some people even put okra in it, which I love.
Since finding out about it I have learned that we’ve been eating callaloo in the south since the Africans arrived. Now I see callaloo growing on the sides of the road in ditch banks along the roadways around Yazoo County. I just realized this year that someone is selling buckets of freshly harvested callaloo at the farmers market on high street.
I’m pretty sure all you need to grow this elephant ear looking plant is a wet and shady area and step back as it takes over the area. I think that could be a way to keep a wettish area of a yard covered and it would help to drink up some of the water. It would look great to see the mass planting of the dark green ears blowing in the wind instead of a wet area long ago given up on as an area that will never be good for anything. I would put them right up there with Iris as a wonder plant that will not only survive but thrive in those conditions. Iris blooms, callaloo doesn’t. Callaloo is edible, Iris isn’t, there are pluses and minuses.
Akee is a fruit that is traditionally served with callaloo. The tropical tree imported to the West Indies from west Africa makes a reddish orange fruit that has to be pealed to get to the edible part. The fruit cannot be imported fresh because the fresh, uncanned version of it has been known to cause hypoglycemia if picked when not fully mature. I find cans of it available in the foreign food section of most grocery stores. Akee tastes nutty and has the consistency of a boiled egg. The fruit is very high in vitamin A and Zinc. I don’t eat it very often but if I’m in a big city somewhere that has a West Indian restaurant I’m ordering akee and salt fish, one of my favorite meals. I dont want to over do my favorite meal then it just becomes another meal.
Salt fish is served with akee because the salty cod fish can be tempered with the nutty flavor of akee. You still get the benefits of eating fish but the salt fish is used more of a spice than a part of the meal.
The coffee in Jamaica is from their Blue Mountain range which has the perfect soil and altitude to produce some top shelf coffee beans. Blue mountain coffee is available in most coffee aisles.
MIMI AND I SPENT a lot of time relaxing at our little open face cottage becoming one with the waves and the breeze and the fact we didn’t have telephones or children or a business for a whole week. We were having a blast. We would plan an outing every day. We hiked a little bit, we toured the villages making some friends, we visited other beaches and we had fun recognizing all their outdoor plants that back home are our houseplants. I think it was there that I sat under a poinsettia tree. We saw hedges that were 10 feet tall that were neatly trimmed crotons. Their growing season never ends. They just have a wet season when it generally rains once a day around 3 o’clock or its the dry season which they consider summer there. I saw a ficus tree down there that was so big there were seven hammocks hanging in its massive limbs. The roots that grew downward from the branches would eventually turn into trees forming a grove of thin ficus trees all around the main base, It looked a lot like a mangrove tree.
We enjoyed our days there together, checked out of society for a minute but towards the end we were ready to get back to our little girl. We bought her a really cool bright yellow Batik island girl dress which of course, she loved. Mimi’s parents met us at the airport so we could do the handoff and get on back home, back to reality. I had been to Jamaica twice before that trip and later Mimi and I went back together with both of our kids and our best friends who had kids the same age as ours.
My previous trips there were way different kinds of trips. Once I went down there for a month. My main goal was to catch the annual Sunsplash Reggae Music festival. This was the year that would be a tribute to Bob Marley. I’m a huge fan, so I had to be there for the three weeks leading up to the festival. The festival went nonstop for five days and five nights, all of Bob’s kids and wives were there. The Wailers were all there. I had a blast hanging around while all these folks and all the other 100s of bands showed up from all the nooks and crannies of Jamaica and from all over the world especially Africa. Music lovers from everywhere were appearing and vying for places to stay. It was a really vibrant atmosphere to be a part of.
Earlier in my stay on that trip I was introduced to Mother Nature, a Rastafarian woman who believes, along with the community where she lives, that she is Mother Nature. After we met we took a long walk along some mountain paths talking plants and edible herbs for medicine and for culinary uses. She was elderly and I was able to hold on to her while we crossed bridges and maneuvered some rocky paths. She had such a kind and quiet demeanor I didn’t want our time together to end. By the time the day was over she had invited me to stay in a little cottage on the back of her property. I was honored. I never thought I’d meet the real Mother Nature much less spend the day with her, much much less get invited to stay in her little shack.
For those three weeks we got along great. During the days I would help with all her animals and I would help her gather provisions for our cookdown every night. We would eat together while we told each other stories about our lives. Hers was way more interesting than mine but it seemed to entertain her nevertheless. She knew Bunny Wailer, one of the Wailers and knew when he’d be getting into town. I was very excited by that and eventually I was honored to be sitting in a drum circle with Bunny and about 15 others, one of the highlights of my life. It was all thanks to Mother Nature, we have written each other a few times, I would make sure not to try and fool her because you know it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.
My other trip to Jamaica was during college when we gathered up 15 guys and gals and headed back to that area for a week of debauchery. That’s all I’m going to tell about that trip, it was fun.
I am glad our two children got to experience Jamaica’s beautiful country and the island life. Things are changing so fast around the world now and there are some places we may never be able to visit again for all kinds of reasons. As the television and the music and the fast food chains are all moving into all parts of the world some places are loosening their grip on some of their own culture. And some are beginning to pick up some nasty habits that not that long ago were unheard of. I get it, every one wants to be able to get their hands on the internet and feel like they are plugged in to the rest of the planet but sometimes it’s sad to me to think that is the beginning of the end of some of their cultural practices that have been going on for thousands of years are vanished forever. Progress.